Since its inception, football and Thanksgiving have been a perfect combination. From the NFL’s humble beginnings in 1920 to today, there has always been football on Thanksgiving and today the holiday is tied to the game of football as much as it is to food and giving thanks.
In 1934, the Detroit Lions played their first game on Thanksgiving and became regular participants on the day, and in 1966 the Dallas Cowboys followed suit.
While recently this tradition has been broken by NFL network’s addition of a third game on Thanksgiving, all 10 of the best Thanksgiving day games in NFL history involve the two blue and silver teams.
Top 10 Turkey Games:
Honorable Mention: New York Titans at Denver Broncos
Technically this isn’t an NFL game, but I felt it deserved to be noted. There’s a lot you can say about the AFL, but two things it had was high scores and exciting finishes. This battle between the Titans (later renamed the Jets) and the Broncos was no exception. The Titans took an early 24-7 lead only to see the Broncos battle back to take a 45-32 lead in the 4th quarter. But the Jets fought back on the arm of quarterback Johnny Green and pulled off the 46-45 victory with a 3 yard td pass from Green to Art Powell.
Result: Titans 46 Bronocs 45
10. 1996, Kansas City Chiefs at Detroit Lions
n the 90s the Lions were watchable for Barry Sanders only. However, this game against the Chiefs the great Sanders was actually outperformed 103 yard to 77 by the Chief’s Greg Hill. Still Sanders and the Lions led 24-21 with 8:41 left in the 4th quarter. However, the Lions’ defense was not able to get the Chiefs off the field, and the Kansas City ground game chewed up nearly 8 minutes before future Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen scored the game winning 1 yard touchdown.
Result: Kansas City 28 Detroit 24
9. 2001, Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions
The one game on this list featuring the woeful Lions of the 2000s. In 2001 they were 0-9 facing the 6-3 Packers. The Packers were in control most of the game and led 29-13 in the 4th quarter until rookie quarterback Mike McMahon came in for starter Charlie Batch. McMahon led the Lions down the field for a touchdown and 2 pt conversion with 1:17 left. After recovering an onside kick, he led the Lions to another touchdown with 10 seconds left. However, McMahon misfired on the 2 point conversion and the Packers came away with the win.
Result: Packers 29 Lion 27
8. 2005, Denver Broncos at Dallas Cowboys
Expected to be a premier running back coming out of Wisconsin in 2000, Ron Dayne’s career never turned out quite the way everyone expected. However, he did have his flashes of greatness, and none were on a more national stage than thanksgiving 2005. Filling in for an injured Mike Bell, Dayne rushed for 98 yards on just 7 carries and a touchdown with his biggest contribution being a 55 yards run to set up the game winning Broncos field goal in overtime.
Result: Denver 24 Dallas 21
7. 1987, Minnesota Vikings at Dallas Cowboys
A game that saw Cowboys quarterback Danny White throw 4 touchdowns and overcome 3 different 14 point deficits (14-0, 28-14, and 38-24) to send the game to overtime tied at 38. However, White also tossed 3 interceptions, the most costly of them coming inside Viking’s territory in overtime. From there Viking’s stars of the game Anthony Carter (8 catches 184 yards) and Darrin Nelson (118 yards 2 tds) drove the Vikings 63 yards down the field, with Nelson scoring the game winning 24-yard touchdown.
Result: Vikings 44 Cowboys 38
6. 1979, Houston Oilers at Dallas Cowboys
This in-state battle featured two hall of fame running backs in Tony Dorsett and Earl Campbell. On this day, Campbell was the clear winner, out gaining Dorsett 195 yards to 54. However the game wasn’t nearly as lopsided as the running back performances, and the Cowboys led 24-23 in the 4th. Though Campbell was the star most of the game for Houston, it was quarterback Don Pastorini who drove the Oilers down the field late in the 4th and fired the game winning touchdown pas to Ken Burrough.
Result: Houston 30 Dallas 24
5. 1995, Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
This game was an old-fashioned shootout, with quarterbacks Scott Mitchell and Warren Moon combining for 794 yards passing and 7 touchdowns. However, Detroit had the clear edge in the running game with Barry Sanders, who ran for 138 yards and 1 touchdown. Though Detroit held the lead throughout, the Vikings kept coming back, and would not be put away until Warren Moon’s final pass was intercepted in the end zone.
Result: Detroit 44 Minnesota 38
4. 1998, Pittsburgh Steelers at Detroit Lions
Ever wonder why the coin toss isn’t called in the air before overtime? Probably not, but if you ever want to impress your friends before a game goes to overtime, tell them it was because of this game on Thanksgiving. Tied 16 all and headed to overtime, Jerome Bettis called the toss in the air. While Bettis claims to have correctly called ‘tails’, the referee heard him say ‘heads-tails’ and awarded the ball to the Lions. The Lions then marched down the field and kicked the game winning field goal.
Result: Detroit 19 Pittsburgh 16
3. 1993, Miami Dolphins at Dallas Cowboys
Leon Lett. Though he had a very productive NFL career, he will always be remembered for two plays, one coming on Thanksgiving 1993. The game was strange from the start: 32 degrees and snowing in Dallas. It was a sloppily played game for both offenses, but Dallas seemed to have pulled off the win after Cowboy lineman Jimmie Jones blocked Miami’s game-winning 41 yard kick. The game would have been over if the ball had just been left to roll to a stop, Lett sprinted downfield and dove at the ball, knocking it forward. Miami was able to recover the ball, and kick a chip shot for the win.
Result: Miami 16 Dallas 14. On a side note, every member of the team, including owner Jerry Jones, did not fault Lett and praised him as the reason they had the year they did, which included winning that seasons Super Bowl.
2. 1986, Green Bay Pakers at Detroit Lions
For some reason, Thanksgiving games have been a stage for many “one-hit wonders”. Such was the case for packers receiver/returner Walter Stanley in 1986. After the Packers took a 23-13 lead, Detroit came back with 24 unanswered points to make it a 37-23 lead. The Packers battled back to make it 40-37 late in the 4th, but saw the Lions drain the clock to under a minute to play before punting deep into Packer territory. However, against the order of his coach, Stanley returned the punt from the 17, and brought it back 83 yards for the game winning score, to finish the game with 3 touchdowns and 287 total yards.
Result: Packers 44 Lions 40
1. 1974, Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys
Imagine if several players publicly stated that they were going to knock out one of game’s best quarterbacks? And what if that team did if fact come through with their promise? Well that’s exactly what happened in this game, when linebacker Dave Robinson knocked out quarterback Roger Staubach. With his team down 16-3 against the arch-rival Redskins, 22 year old Clint Longley entered the game with no NFL experience. However, Longley miraculously brought the Cowboys all the way back by slinging the ball downfield, finishing the game with a 50 yard strike to Drew Pearson with just 28 seconds remaining.
Former Redskin George Starke recently stated that coach George Allen had offered $200 to whoever could knock out Staubach in this game, but after Longley’s performance, never offered money for an injury again.
Result: Dallas 24 Washington 23
On This Date In Sports History:
1908 - 1st US-Japanese baseball game Reach All-Americans defeat Waseda U, 5-0
1910 - Arthur Knight patents steel shaft golf clubs
1917 - NHL forms with Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Maroons, Toronto Arenas, Ottawa Senators & Quebec Bulldogs; National Hockey Association disbands
1925 - Red Grange signs with Chicago Bears directly out of college
1929 - Bradman scores 157 for NSW against the MCC at cricket SCG
1936 - 19th PGA Championship: Denny Shute at Pinehurst CC Pinehurst NC
1945 - Jim Benton, Cleveland end, gains 303 yards (NFL record)
1950 - 7,021 see lowest NBA score, Ft Wayne Pistons 19, Minneapolis Lakers 18
1955 - RCA Victor’s best investment paying $25,000 to Sun Records & Sam Philips for rights to Elvis Presley, a truck driver from Tupelo Miss
1956 - 16th modern Olympic games opens in Melbourne
1956 - Bill Sharman (Boston) begins NBA free throw streak of 55 games
1957 - Mickey Mantle wins AL MVP
1959 - AFL’s 1st draft - NY Titans choice George Izo, QB, Notre Dame
1959 - Boston Patriots enters AFL
1961 - Frank Robinson is 1st to win MVPs in both major leagues
1961 - St Louis Hawk Bob Pettit sets NBA record, hitting 19 of 19 free throws
1964 - Mickey Wright wins LPGA Mary Mills Miss Gulf Coast Golf Invitational
1965 - Muhammad Ali TKOs Floyd Patterson in 12 for Heavyweight boxing title
1972 - Pitts Penguins set NHL record for scoring fastest 5 goals (2:07)
1974 - Test Cricket debut of Gordon Greenidge & Viv Richards, at Bangalore
1981 - 69th CFL Grey Cup: Edmonton Eskimos defeats Ottawa Rough Riders, 26-23
1986 - Mike Tyson KOs Trevor Berbick in 2 for Heavyweight WBC boxing title
1986 - Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton, became 13th NHLer to score 500 goals
1989 - Kirby Pucket signs record $3,000,000 per year Minnesota Twins contract
1991 - NY Knicks pay Patrick Ewing a record $18.8 million for 2 yr extension
Sports Birthdays Today:
1953 - Wayne Larkins, cricketer (England opening batsman of 80’s)
1955 - James Edwards, NBA center (Chicago Bulls)
1955 - Sue Novara-Reber, Flint Mich, cyclist (1975 World sprint champ)
1955 - Wayne Tolleson, baseball player
1958 - Lee Guetterman, Chattanooga TN, pitcher (NY Yankees, Seattle Mariners)
1959 - Frank McAvennie, Scottish footballer
1959 - Fabio Parra, Colombian cyclist
1960 - Tommy Masters, Framingham MA, Nike golfer (1994 NIKE Carolina-50th)
1961 - Joel Ashley Edwards, Dallas TX, PGA golfer (1992 BC Open-2nd)
1962 - Steve DeOssie, NFL inside linebacker (NE Patriots)
1963 - Hugh Millen, NFL quarterback (Denver Broncos)
1964 - Akram Raza, cricketer (Pakistani off-spin all-rounder)
1964 - Benoit Benjamin, NBA center (Milwaukee Bucks)
1964 - David Tate, NFL defensive back (Indianapolis Colts)
1964 - Gene Atkins, NFL safety (Miami Dolphins)
1964 - Maggie Will, Whiteville NC, LPGA golfer (1992 Sara Lee Classic)
1964 - Pierre Vercheval, CFL guard (Toronto Argonauts)
1964 - Robbie Slater, Australian former footballer
1965 - Eric Allen, NFL cornerback (NO Saints)
1965 - Mike Benjamin, Euclid Ohio, infielder (Philadelphia Phillies)
1965 - R Duncan Douglas, NYC, biathelete (Olympics-1994)
1967 - Boris Becker, West Germany, tennis player (Wimbledon 1985, 86, 89)
1967 - Donald Hollas, quarterback (Oakland Raiders)
1968 - Daedra Charles, WNBA forward/center (LA Sparks)
1968 - Darryl Hardy, NFL linebacker (Dallas Cowboys)
1968 - Jonathan Moss, Tenafly NJ, rower (Olympics-1996)
1969 - Byron Houston, NBA forward (Sacramento Kings)
1969 - John Parrella, NFL defensive tackle (San Diego Chargers)
1970 - Alison Korn, Ottawa Ontario, rower (Olympics-96)
1970 - Marvan Atapattu, Sri Lankan cricketeer
1971 - Lloyd Kammeron, soccer player (Feyenoord, Go Ahead Eagles)
1971 - Tyoka Jackson, defensive end (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
1971 - Yone Kamio, Yokohama Japan, tennis star (1995 semi-finalist Hobart)
1972 - Mavan Atapattu, cricketer (Sri Lankan Test batsman)
1972 - Jay Payton, American baseball player
1973 - Alexandra Fusai, St Cloud France, tennis star (1995 Futures-Szczecin)
1973 - Brandon Paulsen, Coon Rapids Minn, greco-roman wrestler (Oly-silv-96)
1973 - Cassie Campbell, ice hockey defenseman (Canada, Oly-98)
1973 - Michael Murphy, Brisbane QLD Queensland Australia, diver (Olympics-96)
1974 - Meike Babel, Langen Germany, tennis star (1991 Futures-Paderborn-GER)
1974 - Joe Nathan, American baseball player
1976 - Torsten Frings, German footballer
1976 - Adrian Bakalli, Belgian footballer
1976 - Regina Halmich, German female boxer
1977 - Michael Preston, English footballer
1978 - Magdalena Grzybowska, Poznan Pol, tennis star (1995 Futures Slovakia)
1981 - Seweryn Gancarczyk, Polish footballer
1981 - Pape Sow, Senegalese basketball player
1982 - Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Nigerian footballer
1983 - Peter Ramage, English footballer
1985 - Asamoah Gyan, Ghanaian footballer
1987 - Marouane Fellaini, Belgian footballer
Deaths in Sport on This Date:
1946 - Bertie Rose-Innes, cricketer (South Africa’s Test), dies
1954 - Roderick McMahon, Professional Wrestling/Boxing Booker (b. 1882)
1963 - Claude Floquet, cricketer (Test for South Africa), dies
1977 - Reg Perks, England cricket pace bowler (1938-39), dies
1980 - Herbert Wade, cricketer (South African batsman & captain 1935-36), dies
1981 - Jack Fingleton, cricketer (18 Tests for Australia, 1189 runs), dies
1989 - Rajindernath, Indian cricketer wicketkeeper (1 Test), dies
1994 - Charles Fortune, South African cricket commentator, dies
2005 - Bruce Hobbs, American jockey (b. 1920)
2006 - Pat Dobson, American baseball player (b. 1942)